Eugene Delacroix: (April 26, 1798 – August 13, 1863) was the most important of the French Romantic painters. Delacroix's use of expressive brushstrokes and his study of the optical effects of colour profoundly shaped the work of the Impressionists, while his passion for the exotic inspired the artists of the Symbolist movement.
Delacroix was born at Charenton-Saint-Maurice, Val de Marne département, in the Île de France région near Paris, France.
There is reason to believe that his father, Charles Delacroix, was infertile at the time of Eugène's conception and that his real father was Talleyrand, who was a friend of the family and successor of C. Delacroix as minister of the foreign affairs, and whom the adult Eugène resembled in appearance and character. Throughout his career as a painter, he was protected by Talleyrand, who served successively the Restauration and king Louis-Philippe, and ultimately as ambassador of France in Great Britain, and later by Talleyrand's grandson, duke of Morny, half-brother of Napoleon III and speaker of the French house of commons.
His early education was at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, where he steeped himself in the classics and won awards for drawing. In 1815 he began his training with Pierre-Narcisse Guérin in the neoclassical style of Jacques-Louis David, but he was strongly influenced by the more colorful and rich style of the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and fellow French artist Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) whose works marked an introduction to romanticism in art.
In 1822, his first major painting, The Barque of Dante, was accepted by the Paris Salon and two years later he achieved popular success for his Massacre at Chios.
Delacroix's painting of the Massacre at Chios (also called Massacre at Scio, French: Scènes des massacres de Scio), shows sick, dying Greek civilians about to be slaughtered by the Turks. One of several paintings he made of this contemporary event, it expresses sympathy for the Greek cause in their war of independence against the Turks, a popular sentiment at the time for the French people. Delacroix was quickly recognized as a leading painter in the new Romantic style, and the picture was bought by the state. His depiction of suffering was controversial however, as there was no glorious event taking place, no patriots raising their swords in valour as in David's Oath of the Horatii, only a disaster. Many critics deplored the painting's despairing tone; one called it "a massacre of art". The pathos in the depiction of an infant clutching its dead mother's breast had an especially powerful effect, although this detail was condemned as unfit for art by Delacroix's critics.
Delacroix painted a second painting in support of the Greeks in their war of independence in 1827. Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi shows a woman in Greek costume with her arms raised in a powerless gesture toward the horrible scene: the suicide of the Greeks, who chose to kill themselves and destroy their city rather than surrender to the Turks. A hand is seen at the bottom, the body having being crushed by the rubble of the city. The whole picture serves as a monument to the people of Missolonghi and to the idea of freedom against tyrannical rule. This event interested Delacroix not only for his sympathies with the Greeks, but also because the poet Byron, whom Delacroix greatly admired, had died there.
Delacroix's painting of the death of the Assyrian king Sardanapalus shows an emotionally stirring scene alive with beautiful colours, exotic costumes and tragic events. The Death of Sardanapalus depicts the besieged king watching impassively as guards carry out his orders to kill his servants, concubines and animals. The literary source is a play by Byron, although the play does not specifically mention any massacre of concubines.
Sardanapalus' attitude of calm detachment is a familiar pose in Romantic imagery in this period in Europe. The painting, which was not exhibited again for many years afterward, has been regarded by some critics as a gruesome fantasy involving death and lust. Especially shocking is the struggle of a nude woman whose throat is about to be cut, a scene placed prominently in the foreground for maximum impact. However, the sensuous beauty and exotic colours of the composition make the picture appear pleasing and shocking at the same time.
In 1832, he traveled to Spain and North Africa, a trip that would influence the subject matter of a great many of his future paintings. Many of Delacroix' later works were based on what he saw during this trip. As part of a diplomatic mission to Morocco shortly after the French conquered Algeria, Delacroix was entranced by the people and the costumes. He believed that the North Africans, in their attire and their attitudes, provided a modern equivalent to how the people of Classical Rome and Greece would have looked.
He managed to sketch some women secretly in Algiers, as shown in the painting Women of Algiers in their Apartment, but generally he had trouble getting Moslem women to pose for him because of the strict Moslem rules that women must be covered. He painted some Jewish women in North Africa, such as Jewish Bride, as this was less problematical. Islamic art, traditionally abstract designs and arabesques, has often frowned on depictions of the human form, and Delacroix sometimes had to hide what he was doing from the local people.
While at Tangiers he made many sketches of the people and the city around him, for paintings which he would paint sometimes much later. In fact, he did over 100 paintings and drawings of scenes from or based on the life of the people of North Africa. Animals he had seen were incorporated into the paintings. In Arab Horses Fighting in a Stable and The Lion Hunt in Morocco, he used images of horses and lions along with people in costume to portray the life in North Africa. In another painting with both animals and humans, Moroccan Saddling his Horse, the man has a more important role.
Eugène Delacroix also illustrated various works of William Shakespeare, the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott, and the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. He is also well known for his Journals, in which he expressed his views on art as well as a variety of topics.
Throughout his life Delacroix painted portraits, religious subjects, scenes from history and scenes from literature. Despite the centrality of the figure in his work, his occasional flower pieces and landscapes are outstanding. Among his notable paintings of friends was a double portrait of the composer Frédéric Chopin and writer George Sand; the painting was subsequently cut, but the individual portraits survive.
In 1862 Delacroix participated in the creation of the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts. His friend, the writer Théophile Gautier, became chairman, with the painter Aimé Millet acting as deputy chairman. In addition to Delacroix, the committee was composed of the painters Carrier-Belleuse and Puvis de Chavannes. Among the exhibitors were Léon Bonnat, Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, Charles-François Daubigny, Gustave Doré, and Edouard Manet. Just after his death in 1864, the society organized a retrospective exhibition of 248 paintings and lithographs by Delacroix- and ceased to mount any further exhibitions.
Eugène Delacroix died in Paris, France and was buried there in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.
His house, formerly situated along the canal of the Marne, is now near the exit of the motorway leading from Paris to central Germany.